Books: Emergence


Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, by Steven Johnson.

Emergence is one of those slippery ideas that is hard to define, other than to say “I know it when I see it”. Loosely it occurs when a system containing many interacting “atomic” components exhibits patterns at a higher level of abstraction, especially when these patterns are hard to explain in terms of atomic interactions. So the behaviour of the air in a balloon is fairly easy to describe as the average of the movement of all its individual molecules, but the behaviour of an ant colony is more than just the sum of the behaviours of the individual ants. We say the latter is “emergent” while the former is not.

Published in: on November 6, 2009 at 7:55 am  Comments (1)  

Analog vs Digital

I’ve been thinking recently about the difference between the analog and the digital, in particular with reference to musical instruments. It seems to me that digital devices often lack a lot of the flexibility of their analog counterparts.

acoustic guitarConsider the guitar. To play it you press the strings against certain frets to select a chord and then strum to make a sound. Simple enough? Alright, but you can also slap the strings, or the body, or slide you fingers along the strings, or bend them as you play, or pluck the strings on the tuning head or… a host of other things. In the hands of an expert some quite remarkable sounds can be produced.

Published in: on March 10, 2009 at 8:21 am  Comments (4)  
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